Active vs. Passive Auditioning
I think I was drawn to working with actors on monologues because I saw a lot of agony that I knew could be turned completely around. Much of the agony was focused on rehearsing and auditioning with monologues, but an equal amount seemed to be experienced during the actors’ search for material.
Here are the monologue-choosing issues I see actors struggling with the most often:
- Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of writing that is out there— they don’t know where to start;
- Feeling intimidated or guilty about not knowing enough plays and playwrights;
- Not knowing what kind of material is best for a particular audition;
- Not having a clear sense of themselves as actors. Including, but also going beyond “type” issues, actors are often unsure about how to factor their personalities into the choices they make for auditions;
- Being so daunted by performing monologues in general that they either avoid monologue auditions completely, or only have one or two pieces—which they often hate—that they use for every audition they go on;
- Because of any or all of the above, procrastination! Actors routinely put off their material searches as long as possible, and end up taking the first monologue that seems acceptable, which is often a very overdone piece from a monologue book. (Note: I am not against monologue books. See the chapter “How to Use a Monologue Book.”)
Have you ever experienced any of these problems? This book focuses on solving all of them.
I teach actors in my New York monologue classes to use the same creative storytelling skills in auditions that they use when performing in a play or in front of a camera. I encourage them to think of monologue auditions—and all other kinds of auditions—as regular parts of their artistic lives, not separate from the rest of their acting.
We also never forget that the business side of the class is about how to audition effectively. We look at all of the verbal and nonverbal communications an actor can make during an audition, and how to make positive and professional choices about each one.
In this book, I’m going to focus on both the artistic and business sides of monologue choice.
I think much of the difficulty actors have when choosing monologues comes from not having a clear and effective way to work on them. It happens often in my classes that once actors see what they can actually creatively do with an audition piece, using specific acting and directing choices, they see potential in monologues they would have overlooked before.
For information on how I teach monologue preparation, please check out my monologue technique book, DVD, and New York classes. For now, we are going to focus on:
The Art of Choosing Monologues
Choosing monologues can be an art—a creative act you can get good at. I have seen many actors learn to do this. The key is to become active in your material choice—and your whole approach to auditioning—instead of passive.
The passive actor:
- Has only one or two monologues prepared, and doesn’t love them;
- Does those same pieces for all monologue auditions she goes on— or only goes to the auditions for which those pieces could possibly work;
- Hopes that if she acts her pieces well, the auditors will choose her;
- Thinks of her material choice as secondary to her acting ability.
The active actor:
- Understands how his choices of material can make major statements about who he is as an artist, and about how much he is in tune with the needs of his auditors;
- When necessary, is willing to take a few risks to achieve both of these things, which for him is more desirable than staying with the pack;
- Chooses well-written monologues he likes and loves;
- Notes all of the requirements for an audition—style, period, type, length;
- Finds out anything he can about the tastes, preferences, styles, and production history of those who will be watching, and then considers all of those factors plus his own type, strengths, and sensibilities;
- Studies the local industry and trends—even if this is the theater community in a town or small city—to inform his choices;
- Has a repertoire of many monologues, and is enough in practice that working up a new piece, when needed, is not a big deal for him;
- Walks in the door with the best one or two monologues he has been able to find and rehearse for that particular audition;
- Has other pieces he can go to if they want to see more, or see something else.
All of this careful preparation means this actor will be meeting his auditors actively in the audition room. Can you see that this is a completely different way to audition than the passive way described above?
It is completely within your power to be this active actor.
You’ll have to be ready to put your procrastination about finding monologues aside. However, when you know how to focus your choices for material, your searches for monologues will be much more productive, and this will increase your motivation.
Won’t it be a huge relief to replace that feeling of dread with some practical — and often very enjoyable — thinking and reading?
The Two Reasons to Choose Monologues
1. To prepare for specific kinds of auditions (and competitions). In this case, the priorities are finding material that is a great match for the type of audition, and that showcases you and your current strengths.
2. For artistic development and growth. Here, your primary purposes are exploration, working on difficulties, building skills, challenging yourself to work out of your comfort zone, and (yes) having fun.
I encourage working on monologues for both these reasons, and find that frequently they can overlap. The pieces you work on for specific auditions should engage you as a storyteller, and help you to grow as an artist. It is important though to be conscious of your purpose when working on each monologue, because not every monologue you work on for artistic reasons will serve you in the audition room.
Part of the purpose of this book is to make that distinction very conscious and clear. There are several factors to take into account when choosing audition material, and we will look at each one of them.
Learning to choose well for your auditions is a skill you can practice and improve at. The considerations you’ll have to make will require you to step outside yourself and understand more about the audition process.
In this book, I’ll present an overview of the factors that should go into choosing monologues. We’ll look at monologue choice from the auditors’ perspective, and you’ll be shown ways of evaluating who you are as an actor and how to factor your type and personality into your choices. I’ll examine the many questions that arise about contrasting pieces, cutting and editing, inappropriate material, accents, overdone monologues, and more. I’ll discuss material choice for the different kinds of monologue auditions that exist, and also present ways to use monologues for growth and repertoire building. All of this will support you in being an active auditioning actor.
* * * * *
Karen Kohlhaas is a New York based theater director and filmmaker, a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company, and a senior teacher at the Atlantic Acting School. She teaches private monologue, directing, and “Fearless Cold Reading & Audition Technique” classes in New York and other cities. She is the author of How to Choose a Monologue for Any Audition, The Monologue Audition: A Practical Guide for Actors, and The Monologue Audition Teacher's Manual, and is the director/writer/producer of The Monologue Audition Video (DVD), a 120-minute instructional DVD for actors, or anyone who wants to improve at public speaking and giving presentations, available at www.monologueaudition.com.
Copyright 2009 by Karen Kohlhaas
Individuals have permission to duplicate this article if done so in its entirety.